A lifetime of good calcium nutrition plus daily exercise is critical for bone health. It may help prevent osteoporosis (weakening of the bones) later in life. Just over half of young children ages 3 to 5 consume the recommended amounts of calcium daily, and only 20 percent of teens are getting enough.* For children ages 2 to 6, the best source of calcium is from milk and other dairy foods. As a bonus, dairy foods include vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.
Get Dairy Calcium Daily
Experts recommend the equivalent of 2 cups of milk (16 ounces) daily for a child 2 to 6 years old. Use this chart to mix and match foods and portion sizes to achieve the equivalent of 2 cups of milk a day.
Meet the Meat Group
The meat group contains beef, pork, poultry, fish, veal, and lamb. It also includes cooked beans (legumes), eggs, and nuts. Meat-group foods, as well as those in the milk group, are rich sources of protein. Health experts report that most children in the United States get plenty of protein, either from dairy foods or meat.
Protein Plus Iron and Zinc Too
Meat offers more than protein. Meat, fish, and poultry are rich in iron and zinc. Meat contains a factor that enhances the absorption of iron into the blood, meaning that children get more iron from meat than from vegetables with iron or fortified grain products. Iron, for healthy blood, and zinc, for normal development and wellness, are especially important for young children, who are growing rapidly. Additionally, meats contain some B vitamins, such as B6 and B12, that are difficult to find in other foods.
How Much Meat? Think Ounces
To get enough protein, iron, zinc, and other nutrients, experts recommend that young children have at least three or four portions of meat, fish, or poultry in a week. On a daily basis, young children should eat the equivalent of four to six ounces of lean meat. (Two- to 3-year-olds should receive a bit less.) Use this chart to mix and match foods and portion sizes to achieve the daily goal.
Find Out More
For more guidance on milk- and meat-group food requirements, consult MyPlate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It's available online at www.choosemyplate.gov.
Know Where Food Goes!
Once children have an idea about digestion, use this learning-center activity to let them test their understanding. You need a large, empty cereal box; enlarged copy of the child's digestive tract from this page; pictures of healthful foods; magnetic tape; a magnetic wand or other strong magnet.
Remove the top of the cereal box so that it is open at one end. Attach the image to the front of the box. Mount the pictures of foods onto tagboard and glue a small piece of magnetic tape to the back of each. To use, one child chooses a favorite food and places it at the opening of the child's mouth in the picture. A second child uses the magnet inside the box to guide the food from the mouth through the digestive process.
Tips on Raising a Milk Drinker
Provide a small measuring cup partially filled with milk as your child's very own "pitcher." If there are spills, they'll be small ones.
Be a role model and drink milk yourself.
Offer your child milk at every meal. Let him decide how much to drink.
Keep milk cold. It tastes better.
If Your Child Just Won't Drink Plain Milk . . .
It's OK to offer chocolate- or strawberry-flavored milk. You can also make your own flavored milk by blending in fresh or frozen strawberries or a fresh banana. Add a couple of ice cubes to be sure it's cold.